The Swahili people have a cautionary saying that "kuzaa mwana sio kazi, kazi ni kumlea" (to give birth is not the main challenge, the real challenge is to raise the child).
So true that given the media reports of young people committing suicide, it is evident many parents find it hard to cope with the ever changing world around them, while at the same time, do their best to bring up educated and well behaved children.
In a preview of a ‘value-based learning’ research study by Jesuit Hakimani Centre to be released next week during a national conference in Nairobi, there are many indicators therein that parents are very concerned with the quality and quantity of time they have for their children.
Statistically, 83 per cent of the parents are unhappy that they don't have quality time with their children. There is no doubt, based on the research, that parents are keen on the kind of character and attitudes their children ought to develop.
They want to nurture children with positive attitudes, sociable traits, well mannered, respectful and so forth.
The limitations to achieving this noble aim are many.
The parents have to work in order to raise the necessary resources to bring up the children. For some, particularly those in cities, they have to wake up at 5 am and can only get back home after 8pm because of many reasons.
These include traffic jams, work or out-of-office meetings that run late into the evening. Others are tied to high targets so that they have no option but work long hours.
For others still, the competition to keep the scarce job, however poorly paying it may be, keeps them in offices beyond the mandatory 8a.m to 5p.m cycle.
For the parents in rural areas, their availability is quite the opposite. School children have to leave early for school and come back home late because they have to do their preps.
The parents have to till farms, fetch water and firewood, take care of their animals, and ensure as the sun sets they have put in at least 10 hours of hard labour that, in most cases, does not reward handsomely to meaningfully support the children.
Children have also created their own world. The mobile phones, which many parents find themselves compelled to buy because the child demands, have become a second home to many.
The research findings show worried parents what content children are consuming through those little gadgets.
What the online space has done for parents is give them an alternative of what to do with idle kids.
They have computers and mobile phones with enough data bundles to keep them busy. There are plenty of good things that accessing the internet early in life offers children. But that is only on a good day.
Children find a home in the virtual world so engrossing that staying with ‘boring’ parents is the last thing they want.
Other than parents serving as ATMs and other service provision that the little ones cannot do on their own, the virtual space has also diminished the quality of presence the kids have in their own home.
There is need to start a national conversation on whether the current trend of parenting is actually sustainable in the long term and how it impacts on children's character and attitude formation.
An easy consideration is less working hours for parents.
As it is, the pressure is on parents to raise resources to support children, which is taking a toll on the time they have with their children.
The bad news with this kind of work life is that many kids will be brought up by computer tutorials, Day Care Centres and house helps.
The tutorials cannot teach values that are best imparted by parents. There is no technological advancement that can replace a parent.
Only a parent can nurture a child with a human heart; but only if they find time to spend with their children.
Dr Mokua is Executive Director - Jesuit Hakimani Centre
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